BAPTISM. It’s no surprise that I disagree with paedobaptism. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when I say the Baptist and Presbyterian views of baptism will revolve around how we view the covenant of grace. Each side believes in the covenant of grace, but we greatly differ in how we believe it is applied as well as when it was implemented. Without getting too far into the weeds, Presbyterians (and some others) believe the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament but was merely a different form of administration as compared to the New Testament. Just as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, so they feel baptism is a sign of the new covenant. Similarly, just as children in the old covenant were given the sign of circumcision, they feel children of believing parents are considered “covenant children” who should receive the sign of baptism. Now, there is far more to be understood on this topic, but this should suffice to give a fair overview of their beliefs. While my first two statements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, perhaps my third will. I assert paedobaptism makes a mockery of the Old Testament and the old covenant (i.e. Mosaic covenant) by inadvertently declaring the latter to be a sham.
Before the hate mail begins, allow me to justify my assertion and preface it with the acknowledgment that no Presbyterian would ever dare make such a claim of the old covenant. I do believe our Presbyterian brethren are genuine in their desire to be true to the Word of God. My point is less that they openly declare such a position and more that their belief in infant baptism necessitates it. As we begin, we need to turn our attention to the eighth chapter of Hebrews. I will make bold the parts I plan to discuss in more detail.
6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, to the extent that He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second. 8For in finding fault with the people, He says,
“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will bring about a new covenant
With the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
9Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day I took them by the hand
To bring them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care about them, says the Lord.
10For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, declares the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
11And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen,
And each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For they will all know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
12For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings,
And their sins I will no longer remember.”
13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear. -- (Hebrews 8:6-13)
I will use the remainder of this article to lay out my reasoning. For the sake of space, this will just lightly touch on the subject. However, I do believe my case will still be made clear despite the brevity.
To begin, we must keep in mind the author of Hebrews declares the new covenant is not only new (v.8) but is also a better covenant with better promises (v.6). He makes it abundantly clear that this new covenant is not like the old one made with their fathers (v.9). It seems awfully strange to go to such an extent in differentiating the covenants, only for them to end up actually being the same covenant under a different administration. Not to mention, there is zero mention here of administrations. It is the covenants themselves that are different from one another. In the old, there was fault in that it was held together by man (v.7). The new is faultless because it is God Himself who keeps it. Again, the old covenant and new covenant are not the same, and any similarities in the old serve as a type/shadow of the new that was to come.
Let us shift our focus to Hebrews 8:8-12. These verses are quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. Take note that Jeremiah is speaking in the future tense. At a minimum, the covenant of grace did not yet exist during his day. He clearly wrote of it as being a covenant yet to be. So when was the covenant of grace established? The answer to this is simple. It was established in the crucifixion of our Savior. The covenant of grace was not validly established until His blood was shed (Hebrews 9:16). Just as the old covenant was inaugurated with blood (Hebrews 9:18-19), so was the new covenant. Nobody tries arguing the old covenant existed prior to its inauguration. We must hold the same standard to the new covenant if we hope to be consistent.
But what happened to the old covenant once the new came? According to Scripture, it was made obsolete and disappeared (v.13). With the new covenant, there was no longer a need for the old. The Presbyterian uses words like “administration” because it fits their tradition, but we see no such wording found here. This is an area where I wish Presbyterians had continued reforming. I like to semi-jokingly assert that Lutherans were part of the Reformation but are not Reformed, Presbyterians are partially Reformed, and Particular Baptists are thoroughly Reformed. Of course that’s not to say we’re perfect and have it all figured out, but I do feel in the case of baptism we are further Reformed than our Presbyterian brethren. I also assert infant baptism is a doctrinal holdover of popish error and tradition. If the new covenant was not the old covenant, the new covenant was not inaugurated until the death of Christ, and the old covenant was rendered obsolete upon the establishment and inauguration of the new covenant, it necessitates that the old covenant and new covenant could not both exist simultaneously. The covenant of grace was not valid until it was ratified by Christ through the shedding of His blood, which means it was not active in the Old Testament. Thus, if paedobaptism requires the belief that the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament, it must first declare the entire old covenant to be a sham. I dare say this is no small claim, but it is the logical conclusion of paedobaptism so long as it holds to the “two administrations” model of the covenant of grace. If the covenant of grace truly existed in the Old Testament, it means the old covenant was obsolete from the beginning, that it was never a valid covenant, and that it was all a sham. Thus, paedobaptism makes a mockery of the old Mosaic covenant and all who believed they were a part of something valid. During their time, the new covenant existed in promise only, the substance yet to be inaugurated.
But what does that make of Old Testament saints? Were they not actually saved? If they were saved, was it by some other means than how we are saved today? Rest assured, Old Testament saints were saved in the very same manner we are today: by faith in Christ alone. Paul makes very clear that Abraham was justified by the same faith that we possess today (Romans 4). This is because Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the coming Messiah while New Testament saints look back through faith. This faith remains constant, though there was certainly more revealed in time. So does this mean Old Testament saints were actually in the covenant of grace after all? Does this mean they saw heaven from the moment of death because of their faith? The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first question, however, is a bit more difficult to answer. While they were saved by the same faith, and we can safely say they are part of the covenant of grace, they were not yet in the covenant because it had not yet been established. There was no covenant of grace to be a part of. However, it was their very real faith that saved them. This is why they went to Abraham’s Bosom (for more, READ THIS). This was not a place of uncertainty but of temporary holding until the Christ would come and inaugurate the new covenant. Upon inauguration, all who possessed faith in Christ were now a part of it though Him. The below graphic might help.
The good news is that there is now a better covenant with better promises. In the old covenant, you could be a full-fledged member simply by birth, yet be bound for hell in unbelief. The better promise of the new covenant is that all who are part of it will see heaven. This is because only those in Christ by faith are members. All members of this new covenant, from the greatest to the least, will know Christ (v.11). Just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, so is circumcision required in the new. All new covenant members will bear the sign of a circumcised heart which leads to faith. This is the inward reality of all members. I, too, believe in covenant children but only in one of two ways: either a child who comes to saving faith in Christ, or by the fact that all believers are children of God. As Pastor Steve Clevenger so succinctly put it, “You are not in the new covenant without the inward realities.”
The new covenant is unbreakable. All who are in it shall remain in it. No covenant member can wear the external signs, void of internal realities, only to fall away or depart later. Such a person only demonstrates they were not covenant members at all. While Baptists may occasionally mistakenly baptize false converts, Presbyterians routinely do so to those who never even proclaim faith, all in the name of a covenantal continuity that does not exist. This is dangerous territory. If you were baptized as an infant only to come to faith later in life, I urge you to be baptized through faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the absence of faith, your baptism was just a BATHtism. Seek obedience to your Savior have the ordinance be carried out biblically.
The new covenant is unbreakable! Take peace in this and give thanks to the Lord who has called His own and shall preserve us to the end in such an unbreakable covenant.
~ Travis W. Rogers